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Laswa: The One Dish to get People to Eat Their Veggies

Just read this horrifying report (well at least to me) released by the CDC last year that stated that over a third of Americans reported eating vegetables/fruits less than once a day.  The full report has some even more terrifying statistics (how scarce healthy food programs are, how little support farmers get, etc.) but boy…when the government advises us to eat at least half our daily intake in fruits and veggies, less than once a day is pretty damn bad!

Nice cover, terrifying content.

Nice cover, terrifying content.

More facts: we are in the midst of an obesity crisis.  Kids are up in arms against the newest onslaught of soggy broccolli casserole and none-too-subtly disguised celery cut into misshapen bunnies.  Beleaguered moms are desperately searching for the next guerrilla tactic to hide peas into their picky eaters’ next meal.  America, you are losing the proverbial battle in getting kids to eat a more balanced diet.  We can go on and on about the reasons from poor distribution of food, food deserts in inner cities, and yadda yadda…….but I am here to offer one humble suggestion as to how to get people, especially young ones, to *whisper* “eat more veggies”.



No, your next carrot doesn’t need to hide behind Kardashian-proportion cosmetics.  No, you don’t need to bribe your the little brats with another iPad (or Kindle if you’re that kind of parent).  The solution is simple, elegant, and downright brutal.  You ready?

Here it is.  The secret to getting youngsters to eat more veggies is…….


Oh you want pizza?  Well guess, what, daddy only cooked veggies tonight so you eat or you starve homie.  Oh you want money to buy food at school?  Not if I don’t pack you a healthy home-cooked meal you won’t!

I once read a study (cross my heart) that showed that babies, when placed in front of different dishes ranging from sugary candy to the healthiest veggies, will NATURALLY and without coercion, pick out a balanced meal.  It is only through cultural/social conditioning and our own fears that we teach our kids that somehow, chips and soda trumps a nice home-cooked, unprocessed meal.  Coupled with the fact that sugar has been proven to have addictive properties similar to that of heroin, and no wonder it’s hard to get that veggie number up.

Looking back, I never really “hated” any vegetables except broccolli…and only because American TV shows all portrayed it as disgusting.  Looking back, my parents, either through cruelty or wisdom, did NOT give me a choice.  One of the things they cooked regularly which would scare the most ardent junk food lovin’ 5 year old out there, was an Ilonggo soup called Laswa.  Laswa is a plain soup of boiled vegetables flavored with shrimp hailing from the province of Iloilo.  Simple, nutritious, and most of all, if you didn’t like it…there was nothing else in the house to eat.  And no it didn’t taste like bland boiled cauliflower, this stuff was dynamite! It’s light enough not to get you feeling bloated, with enough oomph to keep you full.

So here’s what I propose to you.  Try training the young ones on Laswa.  I promise you they’ll grow up thinking vegetables were the norm and not the exception.  You see, getting people to eat more veggies really isn’t that hard when you start early.  As for the latecomers?  Well….let me think about that one a bit longer.

Ingredients listed below , clockwise from left.

Dem greens doe!

*Feeds 4 veggie-phobes.
You don’t need to have every single one of the ingredients below.  Pick and choose a few veggies and you’re good to go!

3 – 4 cups, malunggay / moringa leaves separated from stems (spinach)
2 – 3 cups, saluyot / corchorus leaves separated from stems (sorry….can’t think of a substitute)
singcua / silk gourd / Chinese okra (zucchini), sliced
1/4 kalabasa / winter/butternut squash, peeled and cubed
10 or so pieces okra, cut into 3″ long pieces
2 – 3 cups string beans, cut into 3″ long pieces
1 – 2 cups peeled and cubed gabi / taro root (parsnip, sweet potato, yams)
3 cups shrimp, unpeeled
1 tbsp. Bagoong (shrimp paste), optional
1/4 cup dried shrimp, optional
2 tsps. fish sauce, optional


It doesn’t get any easier than this.  Hell, it’s so easy I won’t even bother numbering this!

Boil the vegetables in plenty of water at medium high (more water = more soup!  So use your judgment) in order of toughness.  In our case, you would first boil the squash and taro, then the beans and okra, and finally the more delicate leaves.  Season as you go making sure you don’t oversalt (ie. if you’re using bagoong, go easy on the salt).  Right at the end, toss in the shrimp.  Keeping the heads and shell on with flavor your soup as opposed to using that weird already-peeled variety.

Quick tip: as you boil each vegetable, test it by poking it with a fork to check softness.  Once almost done to your liking, add your next vegetable.

While you’re boiling away, prepare some rice or a side dish.  We went with a little grilled fish.

Fanning the grillmaster.

Fanning the grillmaster.




That’s it!  Set it down and serve with some rice and (my personal favorite) seafood and you’re good to go.  One last thing: set it down without fanfare.  Act like it’s a perfectly normal dish to eat.  The less of a big deal you make it, the less fuss you’ll have to put up with.  Now go out there and reclaim your child/husband/rebellious friends’ diet!

Filed under: Cook, Recipes

About the Author

Posted by

Paolo Española is a wandering diner in search of a good meal and an ever-elusive identity. He started this blog during a soul-crushing stint as an Accountant and later co-founded Hidden Apron, his side project that’s dabbled in everything from private catering, hosting pop-up dinners, podcasting, and everywhere in between. He is a contributing author to the best-selling cookbook, “The New Filipino Kitchen” and believes that food is a universal language that can solve the world's most challenging problems, help people believe in their own potential, create communities to shared stories, and realize that in Breaking Bread, we Break Boundaries.


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